Michael J. Willett | Interview

Michael J. Willett is an actor, singer-songwriter with a fabulously entertaining list of screen credits under his belt. Having appeared on hit shows like “United States of Tara” and “Faking It,” to the more recent Netflix original series “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings,” and also stepping into the recording studio to release original music—Willett keeps on showing us why he is one our favorite gay best friends.  I had the chance to talk to Willett about his thoughts on gay characters in present media, music, and I also asked him about his opinion on that Scarlett Johansson quote that was making the rounds a bit ago. 

 

Many people may recognize you from the 2013 comedy G.B.F. in which you play a shy gay teen who struggles with his newfound popularity after being rushed out of the closet by a group of his high school peers. The director, Darren Stein, criticized the movie’s R rating by pointing out that there wasn’t a “single F-bomb, hint of nudity or violence in the film.” Do you think G.B.F. would receive the same rating if it were released now, in the time of other teen LGBTQ+ movies such as Booksmart or Love, Simon?

I’d like to hope that if G.B.F were released today it would receive a PG-13 rating. It’s fascinating to me how our culture is much more accepting of violence than sexuality. What made G.B.F. so subversive to heteronormative society is that it normalized a gay experience. It wasn’t tragic to be gay and that was threatening.

 

Having played a handful of gay characters in television shows such as Faking It or United States of Tara, are there any differences you’ve noticed in the way gay characters are presented in television today and how they are received by audiences?

It seems to me that things are moving in a positive direction. Some of the tropes and pitfalls of queer characters are diminishing, but there’s always room for improvement. The entertainment industry still views queer people as a minority or a gimmick. When really, we want to be equal. Equal pay, equal importance, equal prominence. I find queer characters are getting more multifaceted which I really appreciate. No longer are we oversimplified to being gay clowns or gay angels. We are interesting, complex people and those are the best characters to watch.

Apart from acting, you have also ventured into singing and songwriting — having released an album, REGENERATION, in 2016 and continuing to create music. Your 2018 single, “Pink Sunglasses,” is reminiscent of the folk sound of 1960s Americana, and I wonder to what degree you find yourself influenced from the sounds of the past century? 

Thank you for noticing. I am endlessly inspired by the past and have always loved the music of the psychedelic sixties. This new collection of songs, which I will be releasing this year, has a sunny California vibe. It’s full of peaceful protest and positive affirmation. After 2017, I really felt called to create some kind of art piece that would remind people that life is what you make it. And that some of us out there do care and are trying to make the world a little better every day. I believe “Pink Sunglasses” has the potential to do that. And what better way than to recall the music of a generation that changed our culture?

 

How does writing and performing music differ from taking on an acting role and performing lines in terms of artistic expression — is one more limiting than the other or am I comparing apples and oranges? What has been your experience with doing both?

They are both very personal and mysterious to me and I don’t like to overanalyze it too much. But in a nutshell, acting allows me to connect to other people’s experiences and songwriting allows me to connect to my own. I enjoy both but they are very different and serve different purposes. So, yes! Call me a glutton: I enjoy eating apples and oranges.

 

As a gay man working in the entertainment industry, what is your opinion on the debate of non-LGBTQ+ people accepting roles for characters who are specified to be LGBTQ+? When actors such as Scarlett Johansson say they should be “allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job,” does what they say hold any truth to it, in your opinion?

This is a constant topic of conversation in my personal circle of friends and we always go back and forth with it. It seems to me; everyone is looking at this topic from the perspective of “how does this serve me?” instead of “how does this serve society?” If I’m looking at it from my personal POV, there have been plenty of roles I could’ve played that were given to straight actors and that seems unfair. But if I look at it from their POV, they just want to work as much as I do and are capitalizing on an opportunity like anyone would. Do I feel like it promotes a society that subconsciously believes the best kind of gay man is a straight man? Yes. Do I believe the people involved are aware of that? Not at all. FYI – If you asked me this question tomorrow, I might have a different answer. But right now, this is where I’m at with it.

Love is boundless. I know that love is the foundation of what we are supposed to be and do here on this Earth. “Pink Sunglasses” is all about love. I think the more we make ourselves available to love, the more authentic we are to our true natures.

 

Our most recent issue focuses on the theme of love. What does love look like to you?

Love is boundless. I know that love is the foundation of what we are supposed to be and do here on this Earth. “Pink Sunglasses” is all about love. I think the more we make ourselves available to love, the more authentic we are to our true natures.

 

As we have now ushered in the new decade and closed the chapter on the 2010s, what were some of your favorite queer entertainment moments of the past ten years? And what do you hope to see in the 2020s in terms of queer folx in the entertainment industry?

On the popular end of the spectrum, “Broad City” had a huge impact on me and I reference it almost every day. On the less popular end, I listen to an exceptional podcast called “History Is Gay” which I’m absolutely crazy about. I honestly recommend everyone check it out; it really helps me to remember that queer people have always played an important role throughout history. And in terms of the future, I’m excited for… more! More-more-more! I honestly can’t get enough queer representation and I find it extremely important to support queer artists. I’m very excited to see what we do next.

 

Thank you for your time! Is there anything you’d like us to know?

In the realm of queer entertainment that promotes love and positivity, you can see me in Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings on Netflix, listen to my original music online under the moniker Willett, and stay tuned for more “Pink Sunglasses” releases this year! Thank you so much for your time and attention.

 

 interviewed by Andy Lopez

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